David Driskell
David Driskell (Courtesy photo)

During its centennial year, The Phillips Collection continues to showcase the artwork of the prolific artist David Driskell (1931–2020). Featuring over 50 works, “David Driskell: Icons of Nature and History” offers the first comprehensive examination of the paintings, collages, prints and drawings of the celebrated American artist, art historian, and educator. 

Organized by the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, and the Portland Museum of Art, Maine, the exhibition remains on view at The Phillips Collection through January 9.  

Driskell has long been recognized for his vibrant and versatile artistic practice rooted in his reverence of the beauty and spirituality of the American landscape and his profound connection to the African diaspora. His legacy in the history of American art remains unparalleled: through his curatorial work, writing and teaching, he demonstrated that the art of Black people serves as an essential element in the story of American art. 

Driskell counted as a longtime friend and supporter of The Phillips Collection, serving as a trustee of the museum from 2016 to 2019.

David Driskell’s “Fisherman’s Pride,’ 1956

“It is a privilege for the Phillips to have shared history with David, who accomplished so much in his life and opened the door to so many as a scholar and educator. His dedication to sharing African-American art over many decades transformed the art world,” said Vradenburg Director and CEO Dorothy Kosinski. 

Driskell studied art in D.C., receiving his BFA from Howard University in 1955 and his MFA from the Catholic University of America in 1962. He also studied at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and developed a lifetime connection to that organization. 

Through works spanning seven decades, the exhibition establishes the evolution of his use of collage as a painterly medium, his innovative figurative abstraction and his signature incorporation of African forms. Driskell’s command of color and line and attentiveness to what he called “the symbolic presence of form” is showcased through his beloved subjects, including the natural world, abstraction and the Black Christian church. His work, represented in numerous public and private collections, has been featured in exhibitions in the U.S., Europe and Africa. 

Although his first love was painting itself, Driskell largely devoted his professional life to service for others: he taught generations of artists and art historians; mentored emerging artists and young faculty members, primarily at HBCUs; researched and wrote extensively about the artistic achievements of Black people throughout American history; and was a founding father of the field of African-American art history who was influential in the hiring of African-American artists as professors. The exhibition presents a vibrant array of works spanning Driskell’s career that reveal how artist and educator synthesized his dedication to the field of African-American art with his own artistic journey. 

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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